Smith County donated surplus computer equipment this week to Mustard Seed Ministries, a nonprofit with a purpose of refurbishing discarded or salvaged technology and giving the revamped tech to local schoolchildren.
Karen Jones, pastor and program director for Mustard Seed Ministries, received the donation from the Smith County Information Technology Department. Among the surplus donation was 96 desktop computers, 33 laptops, 38 monitors, 15 printers, six scanners, two switches and three iPads.
The technology program began in 2002, when Jones saw a need for education in technology within the senior members of her congregation. When the classes took off, she said it quickly got into people needing computers.
“What we did was, we started receiving some donations and that developed into some place like the county giving us equipment, more in bulk rather than just one computer here and there,” Jones said.
Mustard Seed Ministries had the opportunity to give every child in the graduating class of 2002 a computer before they went to middle school.
“There are just way too many kids that can’t afford it. If you go to a retail facility to buy a Chromebook, you’re going to pay $200. Let alone a computer with word or any productivity programs, you’ll spend $500 or more. There are just way too many kids, especially in north Tyler, that can’t afford that,” Jones said.
“Our focus was to make sure that there was never a child who didn’t have the technology they needed to get through school. We didn’t want academic success to be limited to the students who could afford technology. This way, it kind of levels the playing field for every student,” Jones continued.
Although gifting computers and laptops to students began pre-pandemic, Jones said they only gave away 600 computers a year. According to her, within the first six weeks of the pandemic, Mustard Seed Ministries gave away 463 computers.
“There was a desperate need for computers during that time. It hasn’t slacked off. We’re not as quite as busy as we used to be, but we finished the year off with over a thousand computers given away,” Jones said.
For years, Smith County has donated outdated and broken computer equipment to Mustard Seed Ministries. The nonprofit organization dismantles and reassembles the equipment and donates them to school children who do not have computers.
Jones said the relationship began when they were moving out of the old jail building downtown. She said there was some salvage in the building, that they didn’t know what to do with it. Jones said she and her team cleared out the building and as a result, had a lot of equipment to work with.
“After that, the county understood. They came over and looked at our ministry and knew that everything that they gave us got put to good use. They now just call us, the commissioners court always OKs the disposal of the equipment,” she said.
Mustard Seed supplies schools in Tyler, Whitehouse and Mineola with technology.
Jones said there is never an instance where a student would be turned away for a free computer unless they have already received one. She said students often come back every year to give the computer back and upgrade to a better one.
When they receive equipment, Jones said there is an IT team with seven technicians who are volunteers. They go to the ministry every day, open the computers and erase all data on the hard drive. They begin to put memory to upgrade the computers, and they make sure the outside of the computers look nice. Then, the computers get tagged and inventoried because they are a Microsoft partner, she said.
“It takes maybe three to five hours to completely do a computer, top to bottom, to completely refurbish it and get it ready to go,” Jones said.
Apart from refurbishing, Jones said there is also a cleaning department who wipe down the keyboards, mouse and computers.
Mustard Seed Ministries is open Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. During this time, any student can call or go to Mustard Seed to pick up a free computer.
Mustard Seed also offers free repairs on computers, printers and other equipment. They also sell select laptops and equipment.
“Little churches like this usually don’t do a ministry like this. They’re lucky to have a food pantry that’s open once a month or something like that. This is really essential for making them self-successful, for making sure they go through school and stay in school,” Jones said.
Jones said many of the volunteers are older folks, who don’t really understand technology, but they know it’s important for children. She said oftentimes they have to search the web to find answers, but they get it done.
Mustard Seed Ministries has paused the computer classes they offer due to the pandemic, but they do have a waitlist which people can sign up for if interested.
“I think my favorite part of this is seeing the expression on the kids’ faces when they come to pick up the computer. They just can’t believe it, you know? And they can’t get to the car fast enough. It’s kind of like, ‘I want to get this and get home right away’ and then oftentimes, we get Facebook posts from the kids, and they’ll show themselves on the computer, sitting at home. It’s kind of cool because they’re so excited about getting it. That’s the best part,” Jones said.
Mustard Seed Ministries, at 1420 N. Church Ave., is a working extension ministry of the United Methodist Church. For information, visit mustardseedcomputers.com or call 903-530-2046.